Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal has come under close scrutiny since his nomination as the Republican party’s candidate for vice president. However, little attention has been paid to the ramifications of the budget on education.
A close reading reveals the budget would particularly harm the vulnerable and needy at Maine’s public schools. Beginning with cuts in early childhood education, the plan would reduce funding for children, youth and young adults from kindergarten through college.
By 2014 a large number of children from low-income families would be denied access to services and programs that support their early physical, social and cognitive development, prepare them for a successful transition to school and help them achieve their full academic potential.
Head Start, a federal program that provides comprehensive child development services and school readiness programs to poor children from birth until they enter kindergarten, is a case in point. Cuts to Head Start in Maine would eliminate 5 percent of available preschool slots.
Title 1, which provides academic assistance to poor and underachieving children in public and private schools, is another program that would face cuts, affecting more than 5,000 students in Maine.
The food stamp program is another example of how the Ryan budget would affect school-age children. In Maine greater than 27 percent of school-age children — and more than 37 percent in Somerset and Washington counties — receive food stamps. Cuts of more than $500 million would lead to undernourishment for thousands of children, placing them at increased risk of impaired cognitive development and difficulty maintaining attention and self-control in school.
The Ryan budget would also make deep cuts in special education. By 2014, many children and youth with disabilities — such as mental retardation, hearing, visual and communications impairments, autism, traumatic brain injuries and specific learning disabilities — would be eliminated from early identification and intervention services and from receiving supports for full participation in regular school settings.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that every state provide disabled children with access to and supports for a free and appropriate education from preschool through age 19. The law also provides funding that pays for a portion of the costs that states accrue. The mandate would be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement fully.
Reductions in assistance would shift almost $11 million to our already strapped school systems. Medicaid, which is not usually associated with education, interfaces with IDEA to cover the medical costs for low-income children with disabilities who require specific medical services. Ryan’s proposed budget would cut Medicaid enrollments in Maine by almost 42 percent, placing a significant number of the state’s special needs children at risk of not receiving the medical treatment they need.
Finally, the Ryan budget would negatively affect low-income high school students, displaced workers and other adults seeking higher education. Pell grants assist more than 21,000 Maine students in meeting college costs. At the University of Maine, 27 percent of students receive grants. At the University of Maine at Augusta the figure is 45 percent. The maximum amount of the grant is set at $5,500 and pays for about one quarter of the total cost of one year as a residential student at Maine’s pubic universities.
Under Ryan’s plan, there would be no cost-of-living increases to cover future increases in college costs. Most students on Pell grants also take out subsidized Stafford student loans, which are federally backed loans that charge 3.4 percent interest and exempt students from paying interest when they are in school. Ryan’s budget would eliminate this program and replace it with unsubsidized loans at 6.8 percent interest.
Maine students who now receive these loans would be faced with paying higher interest rates while they are still in college and after they graduate. At the University of Southern Maine, for example, 85 percent of students graduate with an average debt of almost $39,000. This follows them into the first years of their working lives and as they begin to build families.
If the Ryan budget were implemented, low-income families would vie with each other for increasingly limited educational resources. High school graduates would have to choose between attending college with an increased debt load, deferring attendance or not attending at all.
The poet Langston Hughes once asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?” If the Ryan plan is implemented, too many of our young people will find out.
Lynne Miller is professor of educational leadership at the University of Southern Maine, where she teaches courses in research and teaching practice. She is a member of the Maine Regional Network, part of the Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.